Before Disney put its magical stamp on “Pinocchio,” the mischievous puppet lived within the pages of Carlo Collodi’s fairy-tale novel, “The Adventures of Pinocchio.”
Luckily, when it comes to Piccolo Spoleto’s production of Massimiliano Finazzer Flory’s “Pinocchio: The Story of a Puppet,” — which had two performances Sunday at Footlight Players Theatre — Disney glamour was nowhere in sight.
In fact, Flory’s one-man opera (though “opera” isn’t correct, it’s an Italian version of an opera cornique or Singspiel, where the lines are spoken, and in this case it’s more of an imaginative monologue carefully taken from the pages of the original text), contains no bedazzled effects.
As the director and performer in the show, Flory forces Collodi’s words to do most of the work, leaving the rest up to the audience’s imagination.
Written between 1881 and 1882, Collodi’s 36-chapter story is regaled as one of Italy’s finest novels, using the wooden doll as a metaphor for Italian pride and identity. Though those intentions of the novel aren’t clear in this interpretation, Flory’s 90-minute adaptation is spoken entirely in Italian with English surtitles floating above the stage.
And, though agonizing as it may seem to look up and down repeatedly, it’s fairly easy to get lost in either the poetic text or charming poor-man characters of Flory.
The skeletal set, with a handful of wood shavings and an incomplete marionette (a rather long nose has already been set upon its face), is brooding and dim, calling upon a lonely, modest carpenter’s shop.
Flory, his garden-hose legs wrapped in hugging black tights and an oversized, ragged brown coat, pensively walks about the stage, cautiously telling his story. His movements are never exaggerated; even when his voice is brimming with rage, the actor always appears meek, like a shadow behind each of the characters.
Flory fluently slips in out of each personality. Portraying at least 10 characters, the actor’s voice subtly changes from high wisps (Pinocchio) to booming vibrato (the fiendish fire eater).
The tale takes the audience through the major events of the classic story, with Flory talking to himself and allowing the audience to create the spectacle in their minds. Viewers are unknowingly asked to come up with their own version of the intelligent, if not a little pompous, talking cricket, and imagine what the Blue Fairy and short-tempered Geppetto would have looked like.
The imaginative journey, which happily feels like a story before bed, is layered with original music from Nino Rota and Fiorenzo Carpi. The mythical compositions (pre-recorded), infused with violin, double-bass and xylophone taps, provided slight melodramatic underscores for Pinocchio’s trial and tribulations.
Between each vignette of Flory’s story, the Fantasia-like music was coupled with an interpretive dance reimagining each scene. Unfortunately, the contemporary dances (featuring Michela Lucenti and Emanuela Serra) were excessively jarring. Flory had accomplished an amazing feat for a one-man show: He had the audience hanging onto each Italian line while maintaining the fourth wall. But, every dance was strictly for audience gratification; the women engaged the audience with direct looks and comical smirks, and at one point ran into the house among the audience. It splintered the narrative, redirecting the viewers’ attention from Flory.
Josh Austin is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.